Holding Teachers Accountable For Decisions They Aren’t Allowed To Make
by Karen Schroeder, President of Advocates for Academic Freedom
Billions of tax dollars have been spent over decades to prepare teachers but have produced little evidence of success. States complain that they can’t identify ineffective teachers. That should tell them something!
The significance of subjecting teachers to failed teacher-training programs is lost on those who influence education. Billions of dollars from the federal Common Core Standards, Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation, and other sources will be spent to prepare quality teachers; but those programs will use recommendations from the same educational theorists who created those “failing” teachers in the first place. It is time to stop spending good money on failed policies. Let’s face some truths.
Research and logic indicate that great teachers know their subject well and can simplify complex concepts so children can understand. To achieve this level of skill, each teacher must master the subject he will teach and be prepared to employ whichever teaching method would be most appropriate and effective for a given situation. Teachers fail when the educational system neglects to provide that teacher with the basic knowledge needed to become an expert in a subject.
Grammar and syntax should be introduced early. Few adults today have a clear understanding of grammar and syntax or precise writing. English teachers need to master that knowledge to be effective. Accurate comprehension skills are based on people’s ability to recognize the relationship between basic parts of a sentence and their modifiers.
Math has been the one subject without a language barrier. Discovered thousands of years ago, most efficient mathematical processes allow any person from any country to “talk math” with a person from any other country. As a result, civilizations advanced and evolved with amazing speed. Today, teachers and parents must learn new terminology to help children learn math. No longer can Americans think or communicate using a universal mathematical language.
Few Americans recognize the relationship of math patterns to scientific discoveries, music, or art. They fail to see math as the most amazing puzzle ever created. Federally created (and handsomely-funded) programs have allowed citizens to become mathematically illiterate.
The failed Modern Math of the 1960s is similar to the math standards and curricula provided under Common Core Standards. These two programs encourage children to discover the answer to a math problem on their own, and they require teachers to accept incorrect creative answers over factually correct answers.
Basic math formulas simplify math; they help explain the relationships between patterns, and they create a universal language. Too many America children and teachers have been robbed of this basic understanding of math. Teachers are being labeled as failures when it is their K-12 and college training programs that have failed them.
Teachers are beginning to revolt against being held accountable for failed policies. They have been made invisible, and their involvement has not been sought while policies are being created that will impact their success and that of their students.
Everything Old Is New Again
Every teaching method available to teachers today was available at the time of Plato and Socrates. There are no new teaching methods. Some technologies have made the implementation of those methods more effective, and current teacher-training programs do a relatively good job of preparing teachers to implement teaching methods. The problem occurs when federally aligned curricula requires teachers to use teaching methods which are not appropriate for a specific group of students or for a specific concept that is being taught.
Teachers who object to federal interventions that limit their ability to help students succeed are often threatened with suspension for insubordination.
Teachers need the right to choose the teaching method most appropriate for any given class and for any specific concept. A teacher who chooses a teaching method that fails students is responsible for that failure. When teachers are forced to use methods that are not best for their students, holding the teacher accountable is not fair. That concept belongs in every new teacher- preparation program!
If teachers were required to know their subject, lack of knowledge could be easily identified. If teachers were required to convey that knowledge effectively to students, a five-point quiz could determine a teacher’s effectiveness. Yet, state leaders are complaining that after spending billions on teacher training, they can’t identify ineffective teachers.
Perhaps the teacher is not the problem. Teacher-preparation programs convince teachers to implement federal programs that are morally or intellectually offensive to them. For example, Common Core math standards for grade four require nine-year old children to “critique the reasoning of others.” Teachers would be reluctant to require children to critique the reasoning of classmates or to allow a child to feel bullied considering the relative emotional immaturity of students at this age.
One reason teacher-training programs fail is that educational leaders spend hours convincing teachers that making children “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others” is educationally sound, morally and ethically necessary. Teachers are told that if this process fails the students, the teacher has failed. Teachers are then reminded that their evaluations will be based upon how well they implement this standard. I sat through many in-service and professional development days where this is exactly what happened.
When your state labels teachers as failures and wants more of your dollars to fund the same old teacher-training programs, refuse to fund any program that fails to improve the teacher’s knowledge of the subject(s) he teaches. Remind your state legislators that Georgia recently spent more than $1 BILLION dollars annually on teacher-improvement efforts with “little evidence of success.” The reason given was that the state “hasn’t figured out a way to identify and remove ineffective teachers.”
Citizens must stop this misuse of funds. We must withhold support for failed federal policies and insist that educational experts be responsible for the failures they have created.
Karen Schroeder is President of Advocates for Academic Freedom, a member of the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board, an experienced public school teacher, and an educational consultant. Karen can be reached at kpfschroeder@centurylink.